Growing up in Benfleet
I have lived in Thundersley for the past 25 years but was born in Nevendon, Essex in April 1943. When I was six months old my parents moved to Hill Road, Benfleet. I have many happy memories of my childhood days there.
The first picture shows a street party held to celebrate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953. The assembled guests are families from the area near to Bread & Cheese Hill. My brother Alan and I are at the front of the picture and just behind is our friend Alan Lewis. I recognise other faces in the picture but cannot name them. If any reader of this article can help, please do so via the comments section at the bottom of this page.
One of my earliest memories is ‘helping’ my dad to build a fire in the garden of our bungalow in Hill Road. I was probably about 6 years old. My dad lit the fire but left me just for a moment to go back indoors. Somehow I managed to set the garden alight. I did the same thing again some years later but this time it wasn’t an accident. I was about 11 years old and had got hold of some matches. With the help of my friend Alan Ransom who lived in Kenneth Road, Thundersley, I set light to the field outside our bungalow. I remember running away and hiding in the bushes. My parents had to call out Hadleigh Fire Brigade. I heard my parents calling me but I stayed hidden. They were worried about my safety but I was worried what would happen to me when I was found!
As a young boy I spent a lot of time with Alan Ransom. He was four years younger than me and was friends with my brother Alan. We did get up to a lot of mischief as boys of that age usually do. We used to have great fun going over to Bread & Cheese Hill, armed with mud bombs and water bombs. The trees used to overhang the London Road and Alan and I would climb into the overhanging boughs with our bombs. We waited for charabancs taking Eastenders to Southend for the day and when we saw a coach coming with an open roof, we waited until it was passing beneath us and dropped the bombs. You could hear the people screaming!
We often played in the woods. When the weather permitted we would go to Jasper’s Pond in Thundersley Glen and slide across the ice. Many times the ice would break but the pond was shallow so we only had cuts and bruises and got rather cold and wet.
Alan Ransom had a brother called Reggie and their father, who I think was called George, had a smallholding just off Lime Road, near to where I lived. Mr Ransom had cattle there which I used to help feed. He would cut the hay in the field outside the bungalow where I lived and use this to feed his animals. Alan Ransom, his brother Reggie, my brother Alan and I, helped with this. The picture shows us with the fully laden cart, ready to take to the smallholding.
We also spent a lot of time at the ‘Devil Steps’. We played there for hours and hours Local folklore told that if you were going down the steps, when you reached the 12th step, the Devil would appear. I still played there in spite of this.
At the top of Thundersley Park Road, where it meets the London Road there were two small shops, one on either side. One was owned by Mrs Atkinson and the other by the Jordan family. As a small boy I often went into Mrs Atkinson’s shop with my mum. I remember that everything was weighed out in pounds and ounces. It was like Arkwrights store. Sometimes Mrs Atkinson had to go into the back of the shop and when my mum wasn’t looking, I pinched sweets from the display. I don’t think my mum ever knew. Other days we would go into the Jordan’s shop. Our neighbour in Hill Road, Betty, often asked my mum to buy her Players Navy Cut cigarettes for her to save her going out and we went to Jordan’s for these. The Jordan’s had two children, I think called Bronwyn and Garfield. The shop was always dimly lit, probably by gas lamps and the floor was covered in sawdust. They kept chickens out the back but you would often find that they had escaped from their run and were roaming out the front of the shop.
My dad, Harry, had a friend who owned a shop in Benfleet High Road. Vic Barnes shop sold all sorts and in my teenage years I went to Vic’s shop and bought a 2.2 air rifle. I then went to the Police Station and got a licence. I needed the rifle and licence to earn some pocket money. Near to the junction of Lime Road/Hill Road there was a pig farm and the farmer had rats in the buildings. He offered me threepence for every rat that I killed for him. I did this for the money. At home I practised in the garden by shooting at tin cans but one day I accidentally shot a robin. This upset me so much that I put the gun down and never used it again.
I went to King John School as a teenager and enjoyed my years there. I particularly loved sport. I remember my form teacher, Miss Marsden, who taught English. My classroom was in the ‘rubber’ corridor, third wing, top floor. I recall Mr Evans, affectionately known as Fritz but I don’t know why we called him this. I also recall Miss Boon, the Deputy Head, a formidable woman. Our R.E lessons were given by Mr Blaker. He was a lovely man and if you asked him about the Merchant Navy (which we often did), you could guarantee that he would talk about his days in service rather than give you the R.E lesson you were supposed to be enduring. Mr Beddow was our music teacher and he had a cupboard with plimsoles in. If you were naughty he would ask what size shoe you took, he would then select that size shoe from the cupboard and ‘slipper’ your backside with it. In spite of many ‘slipperings’, I enjoyed my days at secondary school.
When I left King John School around 1958/59 my first job was at Sunnymede Nurseries in Thundersley. I helped with the potting up of plants and also in the small shop selling vegetables. I stayed for around a year and then became a porter at Benfleet station. I served under station master Mr Johnson. There were two shifts available, 6am – 2pm and 2pm – 10pm. I worked the early shift and my duties included cleaning all the brasswork on the station and the toilets and every morning I had to light the fire in the station master’s office. I worked there while steam trains were still running on the line and left just as the structures were being installed for electrification. I then moved to a job with builders, A.C Barvis at Manor Road. Shortly after this I moved to Leigh-on-Sea.
Further information has come to light since this page was first published, regarding the people in this photo. Please click here to see this photo with the addition of many more names.